Ecological Reflections on the Gospel of Luke
By David Rhoads
There are many ways to read the Bible so as to see ways in which the Bible offers or implies the responsibilities we have to relate to and care for all creation. There are several ways I will do this here throughout this reflection on the Gospel of Luke:
· Clarify the understanding and role of cosmology and nature in Luke’s story.
· Explain Luke’s understanding of the nature of God and how this will guide us.
· Explain Luke’s understanding of our human condition as a way to grasp how we have degraded nature and how we can seek to live up to our responsibilities.
· Take Luke’s ethics in relation to our responsibilities to other humans and extend it to apply also to our ethical responsibilities to Earth community as a whole.
· Imagine what kind of ecological movement of faith Luke’s Gospel might engender today.
The whole creation. The first place to begin in seeking to recover care for creation considerations of the biblical materials is in an understanding of the cosmology of each of the writings. Cosmology is actually the most neglected aspect of biblical studies. We tend to focus almost exclusively on human history, on the human story of redemption, and on the human outcomes projected by the biblical materials—leaving us with a picture of people virtually without an Earth. Instead, we need to become aware of the entire created order portrayed in a Gospel of Luke if we are to understand it and if we are to see its full implications for our commitment to care for creation.
The biblical materials do not make a distinction between human history and nature as separate or independent entities. Rather, the biblical materials see all of life as a seamless web of creation of which human history is an embedded and integral part. Unfortunately, in biblical studies we have tended to understand salvation history almost exclusively as human history, apart from the larger created order. However, upon even a small amount of reflection, it becomes clear that for the biblical materials salvation history is really “creation history.” Unless we see human history in this larger context, we will probably misunderstand it. Unlike the Old Testament, in which there are many passages and entire books that focus on creation and the natural world, the New Testament often takes the natural world for granted as an integral part of the whole drama of salvation without it being made explicit. However, it is always present and important.
When we look at the Gospel of Luke, we can see very clearly that human history is set within the context of God’s larger orbit of activity, the entire cosmos as understood and experienced in that age. In the New Testament, we learn this not so much by stories of origin, as in the Old Testament, but rather by stories of outcome as the authors imagine the future fulfillment of creation. In the gospel of Luke, consider this passage from the prophecies of Jesus about the future:
There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
We can see from this prophecy that the entire created order is in synchronicity with human events. Just as human beings are encountering persecution and oppression, so the powers in the heavens are being shaken. And notice that the movement of redemption is not away from earth but toward earth. Jesus is coming on a cloud to redeem earth and bring creation to fulfillment. And human beings are to look for this return and for the redemptive transformation that will come as a result. The created world will not be destroyed, but the destructive order of society will be overcome so that there will be a reign of peace and justice in a transformed world.
However, we can find the larger cosmological picture most explicitly expressed in a passage in the Acts of the Apostles, a writing also composed by the author of the Gospel of Luke. Here, in a speech by Paul in front of the Areopagus in Athens, Paul lays out the cosmic picture that Luke takes for granted from the beginning to the end of his writing. I quote most of it here at length.
Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way, for as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them the altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him – though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we too are his offspring.”
This description of the God of heaven and earth, who made all things and all people and who continues to sustain creation, is the cosmic context in which everything in Luke takes place. The geography of Galilee and Judea and the city of Jerusalem in the larger context of the Empire of Rome, dramatic events such as the birth of the Messiah, the feedings that Jesus does in the desert, and the miraculous events in nature that he performs, along with the conflicts that take place between Jesus and the various groups in Israel, as well as the cataclysmic events projected into the future by Jesus’ prophecies—these are all to be understood in the context of the particular way in which the creation as a whole is ordered and conceived.
So when looking at Luke, one of the first things that we should keep in mind is the larger picture of God’s entire creation. This means that the announcement of the arrival of the kingdom of God in the Gospel of Luke is not a gospel for human redemption alone but an announcement of the redemption and fulfillment of all creation. As you read and interpret the Gospel of Luke in preparation for preaching or for devotional reflection, you will want to notice the references to nature that occur throughout, not only in terms of their literal designations but also in terms of their symbolic significance.
The Natural World. The Judean people of the first century lived close to the land, were deeply embedded in the realities of their world, and were profoundly affected by all that was around them. The creation was imagined as a closed universe surrounding them in which they were embedded—a flat Earth with a canopy over the Earth on which were placed the sun, moon, and stars. They understood it as one world, one creation of God. They learned wisdom from the natural, created world, they struggled with the benefits and threats, and they interacted with life around them. For example, in the story, note how the mountains will be brought low and the valleys lifted up, why Jesus confronts Satan in a desert, how the kingdom is compared to weeds spreading wildly and seeds producing extravagantly, how bread becomes available for hungry crowds in the desert, what happens when Jesus encounters storms on the Lake of Galilee and acts to protect those whose lives are threatened, why the transfiguration of Jesus takes place on a mountain, how the way leads to Jerusalem, when Jesus is at prayer on the Mount of Olives, the grave in its opening, and the ascension of the risen Jesus to heaven. All these and many more examples show the way in which the natural world is completely integrated with and interrelated to the salvation that God is bringing to God’s creation, God’s entire creation.
If we should make a list of all references to the created world mentioned in the Gospel of Luke, either as part of the description or part of the dialogue, the extent of its presence is remarkable. And we can learn a great deal by paying attention to the presence of the natural world with in the life of the story. Here is a list of some of the items that are mentioned in the story.
· Cosmic realities: Earth, heavens, hades, sky, sun, moon, stars, clouds, rain, windstorms, lightning, earthquakes, floods, famines, plagues, north and south, east and west, ends of the earth.
· Geographical realities: land, soil, fields, wilderness, desert, mountains, valleys, hills, rivers, lake, storms, seas and waves, sand, floods, rocks, water, sulfur.
· Animals: turtledoves, dove, vipers, fish, eggs, pigs, dogs, foxes, roosters, birds, hen and brood, donkey, sheep, goat, snake, camel, scorpion, sparrows, ravens, moth, colt.
· Plants: trees grain, grapes, fruit, seeds, dust, vines, olive oil, leaves, bramble bushes, reeds, lilies, sycamore tree, lilies, grass, olive tree, mulberry tree.
· Food: wine, bread, olive oil, fish, eggs, spices, ointments.
· Other things: stones, rocks, fire, ashes, salt, blood, manure, sulfur, ointments, wood.
These are all integrated with human realities
· Places: Gentile nations, Rome, Israel, Judea, Galilee, Samaria, Jordan River, Tyre and Sidon, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Capernaum, and many other village references.
· Inhabitants: God, Spirit, angels, Satan, demons, humans, and animals.
Can we not see many of these references in a new light when we encounter them in the text? Can we not lift out their importance and see them as integral to the world and message of Luke? For example, can we not speak about the ways in which the wilderness and mountains, as places of prayer and epiphany in the story, have also been natural places of spiritual renewal (e. g. the Desert Fathers) and places where we can go to be in touch with the power and presence of God? What does it say about doves that the Spirit came incarnated as a dove? What does it say about hens and our relationship with chicks and other birds (the baby chicks in industrial fowl farms) that Jesus sees God as a hen seeking to protect her brood? Should not such references lead us to think of animals as bearing God’s presence and witnessing to the nature of God? Should it not affect the reverence with which we treat animals—just as we show reverence for grain and grapes in the communion service. And cannot the wisdom suggested to us by references in Luke to such things as lilies and sparrows, foxes and camels, lead us to look for wisdom in the created world. When we attend to the presence of all creation in the text, we open up the opportunity to see things from a different perspective, to give voice to the voiceless in creation, and to transform our own relationship with them.
Such a larger picture enables us from a contemporary environmental or ecological point of view to talk about the interrelationship between human life and the larger natural order in which human life is embedded, the ways in which we draw on the resources and gifts of creation for our life, the ways in which the traumas of nature impact our life, and the ways in which we have exploited and degraded so much of this creation.
Extending the dynamics of Luke to encompass all creation. When Paul says that in God we live and move and have our being and that God gives breath to all, we are not being inappropriate to understand all living things in the same way. Namely, that all animals depend upon God for breath, and all plants depend upon God for their life and flourishing. God is everywhere and in everything. It is therefore completely appropriate for us to extend what we learn about God and about the kingdom of God in the Gospel of Luke to the entire Earth community as God’s creation, that God seeks redeem.
Our vocation rooted in the compassion of God. And it is appropriate to extend our vocation to encompass our responsibility to all creation. To understand what we are called to do, we need to see how our vocation as humans is rooted in the nature of the God in whom we live and move and have our being. What we learn about God in the Gospel of Luke above all is that God is a God of compassion. There is a teaching that Jesus gives in the Sermon on the Plain in Luke in which he says “Be compassionate as God [your Father] is compassionate.” Jesus has given this word after he has given directions for disciples to show compassion in the most remarkable and often counterintuitive ways.
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat, do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great and you will be children of the most high; for God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.
This is a God who shows compassion for people, simply because it is God’s nature to show compassion. As God’s representative ushering in the rulership of God over the world, Jesus calls people to show such compassion for its own sake, not because of what one might get in return, but because we are called to be like God and to show compassion for any who have need. The overall ethics of the Gospel of Luke urges mercy and compassion for people.
As we reflect on this today, we are called also to show compassion not only toward people but also toward all creatures and living things in nature. Compassion is to be our manner of living, the root of our decisions, the basis for our relationships, and the ground of our being. As you read the Gospel of Luke, keep in mind that it is the compassion of God for all people and for all creation that is driving the actions and events and conflicts that take place in every episode. The plot is about a merciful God encountering a world that is largely without mercy
Jesus works for a society of compassion. More than any other Gospel, the Gospel of Luke is about society and the transformation of society. As depicted in the story, this is pre-industrial agrarian society has no middle-class. Rather, there is a small group of ruling elites and their retainers comprising two to three percent of the population, who comprise the wealthy, the powerful, and those with status. Another ninety percent are mostly peasants eking out a living. The rest are “expendables,” who because of illness or disability or impurity are unable to participate in society. As portrayed in the Gospel, the ruling elites lack compassion for the poor, they lack compassion for the marginalized, and they lack compassion for the oppressed and the powerless. Here is a society whose leaders are driven by greed, by the power to lord over the vulnerable, and by arrogance that marginalizes others in the quest for honor. As such, the plot conflict in Luke is not about a conflict between Jews and Christians, but about a conflict between Jesus and his followers (as a Jewish peasant movement) and the ruling leaders (who are Jewish elites) and the rulers of the Gentiles nations (the Roman Empire).
As God invests God’s self in the world in this new way through the agent Jesus and the arrival of God’s rulership over the world, we see the ways in which the compassion and mercy of God’s agents encounter a world of inequality of wealth, status, and power. In this context, God’s compassion moves like a magnet toward those in the greatest need and in opposition to those who cause these inequalities.
Jesus’ ministry expresses this compassion. In his opening statement at Capernaum, Jesus states his mission.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
God has sent me to claim release to the captives,
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Jesus liberates people from the tyrannies of illness, demons, and sin. The centurion’s slave, the widow’s only son, the sinful woman who anoints his feet, the Samaritan who attends to the stricken traveler, the father who welcomes the prodigal son, the tax collector who is was justified, the thief on the cross. We could go on and on to identify the cavalcade of vulnerable people in the society depicted in Luke’s story to whom Jesus brings healing, liberation, forgiveness, and wholeness.
When John the Baptist sends messengers to Jesus asking if he is the Messiah, Jesus replies:
Go and tell John what you have seen and heard:
the blind receive their sight,
the lame walk,
the lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised,
and the poor have good news brought to them.
The entire purpose of Jesus in Luke is captured with this statement of Jesus:
I came to seek and to save the lost.
In our age, we need now to see God’s compassion for all the vulnerable human beings in creation. And we are called to extend our compassion also to the vulnerable in all of creation—endangered species, endangered ecosystems, loss of the delicate balance that has been emerged over the course of creation. As we preach and share, we are called to widen the circle of our compassion to encompass the most vulnerable throughout the Earth-community. And we are called to do this out of concern for their own well-being even as we do so in order to restore humanity—because we see how creation is suffering and our hearts reach out in mercy to act on their behalf.
Perhaps recall here the compassion expressed by which people who took bird by bird after the Exxon Valdez spill in an effort to clean the oil from them so that they might be restored to a healthy life in their native habitat. That is the active compassion we need for every ecological impact that degrades creation. However, it’s difficult for us to think about this in the abstract. So we need to think concretely about the ways in which various animals species are suffering, plants are deteriorating, rivers and aquifers are polluted, oceans are inundated with trash, and air is defiled. We need to see how human beings in so many places are suffering because of this degradation of the natural world around them. As liberation theologian Leonardo Boff has said, we need to “hear the cry of the poor and the cry of the Earth.”
Challenge for the leaders to repent. While the poor and the lowly respond to God’s call, God in turn calls the wealthy and the powerful and those with status to unite with God’s compassion in an effort to create a society as a world of mercy and justice. If the elites were to repent they would seek God’s kingdom first and trust God to provide for them. They would sell their possessions and give to the poor. Those who have coats would give to those who have none. Those who are more food than they need would share it. Tax collectors and soldiers would not exploit those over whom they have power. Wealth would be distributed with justice by the pardon of debts, the release of indentured slaves, and the restoration of property as an expression of the year of Jubilee. Jesus teaches to give to those who beg, lend without expecting in return, pardon debts, and invite to dinner those who are too poor to invite you in return. When these things happen, Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house.” This would be a society driven by compassion rather than by greed, arrogance, and oppression.
Again, God calls those who have resources to show mercy by sharing their possessions, giving their wealth to the poor, refusing to defraud peasants who come to the temple to give sacrifices, reaching out to heal those who are sick, extending their circle of compassion to encompass lepers, those with unclean spirits, and tax collectors, and using their power to serve people rather than to Lord over them. These are the charges Jesus levels against the leaders that got him into conflicts and eventually led to his death, because it was a call to change the system, to change the dynamics of the culture, and to transform the ethos to one of quality, justice, and mercy.
This was a difficult challenge for the elites and all who heard Jesus’ call in the story, because it required deep and profound repentance. The call for repentance and the offer of forgiveness is the foundational call of the Gospel of Luke. It is the offer of forgiveness that liberates us for action. Luke does not connect the death of Jesus with the forgiveness of sin. [In Luke, Jesus dies a prophet’s death as the outcome of his actions and message.] Rather, John the Baptist offers the forgiveness of sins as the inaugural preparation for the ministry of Jesus and the arrival of the rule of God. Throughout his activity, Jesus offers the forgiveness of sins. He offers it to the disciples, to people who are considered to be sinful by the society and to those who may be ill due to sin. He tells stories about those who are forgiven, and he even forgives those who have executed him as he is dying on the cross. In his commission to the disciples as the risen Jesus, he commands them to “proclaim repentance and forgiveness from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.” A reading of Luke’s story will reveal some of the most powerful stories of transformation among people who receive God’s forgiveness through Jesus.
This repentance that Luke envisions is not simply an expression of regret or a feeling of being sorry for what one has done or regretting the consequences of one’s actions. It is all that, and it is much more. For Luke, repentance means of foundational transformation, a turning from one way of being to another way of being. The word means mind-change and it encompasses behavior-change as well. It means to turn around from one way of living in society to another way of living in society, from being greedy, arrogant, and dominating to being generous, humble, and empowering. The twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is an apt analogy that shows some deep sense of the profound change the takes place in repentance. There is a fearless moral inventory of one’s self, there is a deep desire to change, there is an effort to rectify the wrongs that one has done, and there is a commitment to urge upon others the transformation that they themselves have experienced. It is also about turning toward the creation of a new society based on generosity, humility, and service. The forgiveness associated with repentance frees people not to act out of guilt but out of compassion.
This repentance and forgiveness is the transformation we need—not only to transform ourselves as individuals but also to transform our society so that we are focused on mercy toward the most vulnerable. In many ways, this approach is counterintuitive. Our many natural inclinations are to look out for ourselves, to take care of number one, to guard against anything that would diminish our well-being, to secure ourselves with our wealth, to diminish others as a way to elevate ourselves, and to use whatever power we have to secure our own place in the world. Through Jesus, God has called us to do the opposite.
Foster a society driven by compassion for all Earth community. Now, we are called to do this not only in relationship to our society and the most vulnerable human beings in our society, but also we are called to do this in relationship to all of creation. That is we need to do now at national and global levels to address the challenge of the environmental crisis: a transformation to renewable energy, transition to eating local foods, massive reforestation projects, replanting of native species everywhere, cultivation of resources to develop and share new technologies, limits to the use of pesticides and herbicides, prohibition of the clearing of forests and the stripping of land, rationing of energy and water, protection for wetlands and wilderness, among many other things. We need an economic system that settles in and sustains life, all living things, instead of an economy that depends on unlimited resources and unlimited growth. These are systemic changes that require personal commitments. These changes will require courage and they will happen, in Luke’s view, because we are filled with compassion for a suffering creation. We will not change what we do not love.
Just as we have to think boldly about how to change the society, so we need to think boldly about how to transform the church—in terms of personal and systemic transformation. Creation care and sustainable living need to be as natural and inescapable as loving our neighbor. Our entire church—congregational life and mission, theology, ethics, worship, pastoral care, spiritual practices—needs a radical overhaul if we are to care for the life of God’s creation and contribute to our endurance as a species. How does Luke suggest we do this?
Secure the well-being of the most vulnerable. The quest to rescue or restore or empower the vulnerable is a distinctive movement forward in the experience of evolution. Our human understandings of evolution have tended to emphasize the survival of the fittest, which we have interpreted generally speaking to mean the strongest, those who could destroy others or those who could survive at the expense of others. And we have transferred this to our understanding of human social progress and economic well-being. Many species do in fact neglect and even kill the weakest members of their group so the strong can survive. Or they simply let them fend for themselves without support.
However, the innovation of Jesus (and the Judean tradition before him in their commitment to widows, orphans, and strangers in their midst) represented a breakthrough in the creation. Jesus shows us that the strength of the society lies in its capacity to redeem and empower for the most vulnerable and bring them into the society. Jesus welcomes the outcasts. He heals the sick. He drives demons from those considered demented. He cleanses the unclean lepers. He reaches out to those beyond his ethnic community. The vision of society for Israel that he projects is that of a society driven by compassion and mercy. This is a vision of society and an earth community that we are called to embrace.
God turns the world upside down. As Luke portrays it, if those who are the elites do not repent and show mercy, God will act on behalf of the poor, the humble, and the oppressed, even if it means judgment against those who are oppressing them. As Luke says of the Christian movement in the Acts of the Apostles, the fearful elites accuse the Jesus movement of “turning of the world upside down.” God is doing this upheaval by expressing compassion for the oppressed and by bringing down the mighty who are oppressing them. As such, Luke’s vision of the rule of God is that the vulnerable will be lifted up and the elites will be brought low. This is the kind of champion of compassion that God represents.
Consider some of the passages in Luke where this larger plot design of salvation is so evident. The key passage comes from Mary’s song in the birth narratives, in which she says that, by sending Jesus, God is showing the following.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm,
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
God has brought down the powerful from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly.
God his fill the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy.
This is a radical statement about systemic change in the society. It is echoed by Simeon in his words of blessing, how Jesus will be the cause of the “rising and falling of many in Israel.”
This same dynamic of reversal of fortune is found in the teaching of Jesus. Note that the blessings and woes in Matthew are not spiritualized but refer to the actual economic and political dynamics of the society.
Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
Blessed are you we weep now,
for you will laugh
Blessed are you when people hate you . . .
For that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
Conversely Jesus says,
Woe to you who are wealthy,
for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when all people speak well of you,
for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
Throughout Luke, Jesus develops the social reversals in his actions, sayings, and parables. He raises the woman bent over for eighteen years and shames the leaders who object to this healing. Those who choose places of honor at a banquet will be asked to go down lower, while those in the lower places will be elevated. The rich man will go down to Hades and the poor beggar Lazarus is carried up to Abraham’s bosom. The arrogant Pharisee who elevates himself is not justified, but the penitent tax collector who humbles himself is justified. Twice Jesus states that all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. There are also reversals in the matter of who is in and who is out. The leaders will be surprised when Gentiles from the East and West sit at table with Abraham, while they themselves are cast out. The wealthy people invited to the banquet will be excluded because of their rejection of the invitation, while the marginalized—the poor, the blind, the maimed, and the lame—are brought in. Some who are least important who will be first, and some are first now will be last.
The overall plot expresses the same reversal. The birth narratives feature not magi and kings but humble shepherds and Mary and Elizabeth who live in the hill country of Galilee. These are the kinds of lowly people who in the course of Jesus ministry are lifted up, while Jesus prophesies that the mighty will be brought down in disastrous defeat at the hands of Rome [“Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles nations”—a reference to the disastrous defeat of Israel in the Roman Judean War of 66-70 CE]. And their leadership over the vineyard, Israel, will be taken from them [parable of the vineyard]. Luke does not project a reversal in which now the lowly in society will be able to lord over the current rulers. Rather, Jesus seeks a reversal in which domination itself is ended and there is peace and justice carried out by mercy.
We can see such a community in the opening chapters of Acts as the early followers of Jesus sought to generate an alternative community as a model for the life of the nation. In this new community, people sell their possessions and distribute the proceeds according to the needs the people. The minority group of Hellenistic Judeans is given authority over the daily distribution of food to assure that also their widows will be cared for. There is a unity to the group that counters strife. There is a spirit of mutuality among them whereby the leaders serve. People are healed, demons are driven out, the dead are raised. The community is open to all—Judeans, Samaritans, and a whole host of diverse Gentile nations. In this early community is the true expression of God’s people, the locus of God spreading rule on earth, because the spirit is in charge liberating and empowering people to live the vision of “the things that make for peace.”
Our vision from Luke. The dynamics of God’s compassion and the dynamics of Luke’s plot of reversal is a word of admonition and caution for us. We are called to become aware of the poor, the ill, the outcast, and the oppressed. We are called to repent of the ways we contribute to their vulnerability, work to change our lives and systems so that they can be secured, and seek a society of justice and peace driven by mercy and compassion. And such a vision now needs to include all of Earth community, so that there is a world vision of sustainability in which we all living things are treated with mercy; and we find ways for all to live together and to thrive together as the holistic creation we were made to be.
Care for creation movement generated by Luke. So what kind of ecological movement might emerge from a Gospel like Luke? I lift out four characteristics.
1) We open ourselves to the love of God for all creation. In this, we celebrate in our lives and communities the compassion and love of God for all creation. We celebrate the commitment of Jesus to seek and to save the most vulnerable. We celebrate the Spirit that seeks to unite all Earth community in a mutual sustaining of life. Through such celebration, we are lifted into the orbit of God’s love for creation, we are given inspiration to change, and we are fed with nourishment to act. We seek to live in the flow of God’s compassion for Earth community.
2) We become aware of the most vulnerable in all creation, human-kind and other-kind alike. We would find eyes to see them, minds to learn about them, hearts to care about them, and actions to empower them. We learn the names and identities of endangered species. We pray for them. We learn the ecosystem in distress and the ways in which the degraded systems are impacting life. We understand the threats to the entire global community of life because of pollution of air, water, and soil.
3) We repent. We do a fearlessly moral, ecological inventory. We become aware of the ways in which our actions and our lifestyles and the systems of our society contribute to the degradation of people and nature. We examine our greed, arrogance, and exploitation of people and nature. We seek forgiveness in the most profound and life-changing ways.
4) We commit ourselves to change and action, transforming not only our personal lifestyle but also our collective systems to create a new social order that fosters a sustainable and just world for all. This will take courage and yearning to save life. It will not be adequately done out of fear or guilt or shame or outrage or despair but because we are nurtured and nourished by the love and compassion of God for the entire creation so that in this love we will indeed “live and move and have our being.”